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  • Gillette Vaira

Nexts

When COVID-19 first emerged, my immediate reaction was that it wouldn’t affect my family or me. Typically, national elections come and go, scandals hit the news and disappear, and life goes on as usual here in the Big Sky State. I thought COVID-19 was going to be another news story that dissipated. But it didn’t… and it has personally affected every one of us.

First, it inconvenienced us. In Montana and other states, the governor ordered us to shelter-in-place, which is something we never thought would be possible or even allowed. Next, resources became scarce. It seemed like we had stepped into an era of the past. People across the nation – and world – were rationing and hoarding. Then, something happened to my job that has happened to 22 million other jobs in America since the start of the pandemic: COVID-19 eliminated it.

My Next

There’s an inspiration living in Billings, Montana, and her name is Karen Grosz. She owns a team building business, writes books, and is just a genuinely great person. Recently, she gave me one of her books, What’s Next?, and I read it at the perfect time. Inside, she discusses our “Nexts” and dealing with change.

Karen and her book helped me reflect on my “Next”. I may have lost my job because of the pandemic, but I didn’t let it stop me. Instead, I found my “Next”. I am thankful for the experiences I had in my job pre-COVID-19, but this “Next” move is taking me to places I didn’t think I’d ever be on my educational or career path. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Now, I am part of the team at Rebel River Creative. They are intelligent, experienced, and best of all, authentically kind. Not only am I gaining experience in digital marketing, but they also invited me to participate in a year-long training through the Digital Marketing Institute. By June of 2021, I will have a certified post-graduate diploma in digital marketing! I’ve learned so much so far – and working with the Rebels has taken my career to the "Next" level. COVID-19 changed the path I thought I was on, but I could not be happier with the path I am on now. If COVID-19 hadn’t come along, I may never have had this experience. Now, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Adjustments

COVID-19 has forced us to adjust. One adaptation we’ve all had to make – no matter where we live – is adhering to social distancing. As a result, I am worried about the direction our society has taken when it comes to human interactions. “Social distancing” is becoming a real issue. That’s why my family and I prefer the term “physical distancing”.

Let’s think about one physical distancing norm that has really taken off during the pandemic: online ordering and delivery. Businesses like Uber Eats, Door Dash, Shipt, and the like have boomed during the pandemic. Through an app, people can quickly order meals, groceries, or other supplies and simply have them left at their door for a no-contact experience.

While I’m glad businesses like these are finding success, I can’t get comfortable with the unfriendly, non-human interaction experience. I love that I don’t have to go out to expose myself to whatever germs may be lurking. Yes, I can say “thank you” in a message through the app or leave an electronic tip. Sure, I could risk it and open the door to say “thank you” to the delivery person on my door step – or I could continue to shout “thank you” and wave from several feet away. However, this is not the Montana way. This is not how I was raised. People crave interaction with others, and I fear this impersonal approach will stay long after the pandemic. We must do better than this.

Too close for comfort

When COVID-19 became a reality in Montana in March of 2020, something new and unusual happened every day. A new government mandate was enacted – or another event was cancelled. Travel stopped and plans were in flux. Fast forward six months later, and I feel like I am back to the day-to-day. In fact, it really hit me when I was indirectly exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine.

Here’s what happened: A friend and I were having dinner when she received a call from her husband. I immediately knew something was wrong. She got off the phone, looked at me, and said her husband was exposed to COVID-19 at work. He had just gotten the call, and he had to immediately quarantine. Of course, this meant that he had exposed her, and then she exposed me. If he had received that call 45 minutes earlier, it wouldn’t have been an issue for me. However, by then, we had already spent time together – and I had been exposed.

One minute, we were enjoying the night – and then next, I found myself on a self-enforced lockdown. Although the exposure was very indirect, I did not want to spread anything to anyone else if I was, in fact, infected. Thankfully, I am COVID-free, but that experience was too close for comfort.

Yet, the fear doesn’t end. The reality of exposure to the disease is directly affecting my friends, my family, and me. People I know – including myself – are being exposed to COVID-19. And I know people who are testing positive for COVID-19. It’s scary, it’s real, and it’s a fear we have to live with daily.

Looking forward

My experiences throughout the pandemic so far have consisted of sheltering in place, hoarding supplies, physically distancing, partaking in online ordering and delivery services, being exposed to COVID-19, and fearing for my family and friends as they continue to be exposed. For all of us, it has been a rough – and unusual – six months. This was definitely not the 2020 we had envisioned.

Unknowns are challenging. It’s difficult to not know what lies ahead. The worst may be behind us – or ahead of us. We just don’t know. All we can do is our best, and we have to make peace with that. There’s no doubt we all want COVID-19 to become eradicated. However, in the meantime, we’ll have to adjust and find our "Next", whatever that may be. And "Nexts" aren’t so bad.

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© 2015 by GILLETTE VAIRA